Live Review: Ondara; Say Hi Wednesday somewhere in Dundee…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , — @ 7:29 am May 30, 2023
Ondara at Slowdown, Jr., May 27, 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

The crowd last Saturday night for Ondara at Slowdown Jr. was unusual in that almost all of the mostly older folks were seated at high-top tables that filled the room. I don’t remember ever seeing a set-up like that at Slowdown. Opener Kiely Connell was finishing her set when I walked in and noticed not a soul standing in front of the stage. It felt like a formal jazz lounge.

Before he took the stage, I stood back along the edge toward the door that leads to the patio, having spent the between-set time sitting alone outside. Ondara stood in the make-shift “backstage” area behind the curtain off of stage left, not quite pacing next to the pool table, but looking down as he quietly sang to himself in a sort of pre-show voice-warmup ritual. Then he stood up straight and strolled onto the stage to warm applause.

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone with a voice as strong and sure as Ondara’s. He started his set with an a-cappella number that had the crowd mesmerized. And then he methodically went through a set list of a little over a dozen songs, all accompanied by his simple acoustic guitar, all reminding me of early Tracy Chapman — both in melody and vocal style — and it just so happens that I adore Tracy Chapman.

The difference between Ondara and Chapman is in his lack of variety – most of his songs have a similar mid-tempo four-chord style – and his lyrics that, while personal, are nowhere near as gut-wrenchingly confessional as Chapman’s early material, which was revelatory for its time. That said, his songs are no less depressing, introducing them with “Here’s another sad one” and closing out the evening by saying “Time goes by quickly when you’re sad,” though he looked anything but sad as he rifled through the set list, explaining how some of the songs came along. This one is a lock-down song; this one is about aliens, and so on. 

Really beautiful stuff and, like I said, sung with a strong, confident voice so unlike the style of singing I’m accustomed to hearing at indie shows where vocals hold a distant third behind the lyrics and instrumentation, almost as if an after-thought (“hey, someone has to sing these lines.”). 

Not Ondara. His voice alone is a treasure. To underscore this, the first of his three-song encore was another a-cappella number, sung perfectly, unwavering, again mesmerizing the strange, seated crowd. 

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In the early 2000, one of the staple indie acts that toured throughout the country and into Omaha was Say Hi to Your Mom, a one-man act consisting of singer/songwriter Eric Elbogen. We used to call his kind of records “bedroom recordings” because the artist typically recorded the albums themselves on computer. playing all the parts. Thus was how Elbogen did it for his first album, 2002’s Discosadness, and for many that would be released over the next 20 years, some on the PNW label Barsuk Records, whose massive roster also included Mates of State, Death Cab for Cutie, Rilo Kiley, Starlight Mints, Viva Voce, Ra Ra Riot and a ton more of bands I love. 

Sometime over the course of that 20 years, Say Hi to Your Mom became just Say Hi. I guess Elbogen outgrew that earlier name. And now you’ll have a chance to see Say Hi yourself, as Elbogen brings his one-man show to a home in Dundee this Wednesday as part of his Undertow Tour – a tour played entirely in people’s homes. So where is the actual location? All I know is that it’s somewhere in Dundee and that you’ll be notified when you buy your ticket, which is $25 and available for purchase online at this website. Don’t worry, it’s probably a super nice place. Hurry, there are only 18 tickets left as of this writing, and Say Hi shows have a way of selling out. Starts at 8 p.m. 

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Maha Music Festival moves to the Riverfront in ’24; Ondara, Violenteer, Carrellee Saturday; Leafblower Sunday…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 7:43 am May 26, 2023
Little Brazil rocks the Maha Festival pop-up event in the park downtown May 25, 2023.

by Tim McMahan,

Here’s what I know (or at least what I can tell you) about yesterday’s big announcement that the Maha Music Festival will move to the Omaha Riverfront a.k.a. Heartland of America Park for its 2024 festival:

The newly designed park will have a humongous green lawn space able to comfortably handle a boost the event’s estimated attendance to 20,000 over two days. That’s nearly double what they did at last year’s festival. The huge space will allow Maha to add a third stage opposite of the main and second stages, which will host local bands. I’m not sure how that will work, considering last night I could clearly hear Little Brazil playing their final song all the way at 14th and Dodge St. where my car was parked.

A rendering of how the Maha Festival will be situated downtown in 2024.

Anyway, to draw 20,000, Maha will have to book bands that pull arena-sized crowds. Will that mean a shift in Maha’s booking philosophy, away from the indie style of music they built their reputation on? We’ll see, but rumor has it Maha already has someone lined up for next year’s Riverfront debut. 

I’m already seeing people complain online about parking downtown. No doubt Maha will have a plan in place to get you to the festival easily, but there’s no question it’ll be hard to beat the pure convenience of Stinson Park at Aksarben Village, where the festival has been held the past decade (and will be held for one final time again this year). For us mid-towners, the Stinson location was pretty awesome – heck, I rode my bike to Maha. That won’t be an option next year. 

But parking ain’t no thing, compared to what the new location will potentially provide. Though for me, just like Steelhouse Omaha and The Astro, it all comes down to the booking… 

A gaggle of local muckety-mucks were on hand for yesterday’s announcement, including representatives from the Mayor’s office (wonder where she was?), MECA and BFF. And the biggest muckety-mucks of all — Little Brazil — played a full set from the make-shift performance space located on the edge of the new park (which won’t be open until sometime later this summer).

Landon Hedges and the boys ripped through a tight set that featured selections from the most recent album as well as a couple oldies. Maybe it was the afternoon timeframe (and the lack of pre-concert imbibing) but Landon never sounded better vocally, hitting all those precious high notes for a crowd of around 70 stretched out in lawn chairs on the green next to the dog park. Yeah, it was loud, but the dogs didn’t seem to mind. The set-up’s tiny PA, however, began to crackle halfway through the set, unable to handle the sheer power of Little Brazil. 

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Onward to the weekend, and it’s packed for a holiday, except for tonight – which is a vast wasteland.

Tomorrow night (Saturday), singer/songwriter J.S. Ondara – or just Ondara, as he’s known — headlines at Slowdown Jr. Born in Nairobi, legend has it he grew up listening to rock music on his sister’s battery-powered radio, and cites Radiohead, Nirvana, Death Cab and Jeff Buckley as inspirations. His latest album, Spanish Villager No. 3, was released last year on Verve Forecast. To me, Ondara sounds like next-generation Tracy Chapman, right down to the quivering vocal style.  Check out MarQ Manner’s interview with Ondara in The Reader, right here. Opening is Nashville roots singer/songwriter Kiely Connell. 8 p.m. $30. 

Also tomorrow night (Saturday), Omaha prog-rock masters Violenteer opens for Reno noise rock band Elephant Rifle at Reverb Lounge. Local Ponzi Scheme also is on this 3-band bill that starts at 8 p.m. and will run you $15.

Meanwhile, just down the street at The Sydney, Madison Wisconsin’s Carrellee headlines. Her debut album, Scale of Dreams, was produced by Brett Bullion (Low, Polica). Also on the bill are Mr. Softheart. Specter Poetics opens at 9 p.m. $10. 

Finally, Sunday night, Omaha noise-punk band Leafblower opens for KC growlers Nerver. Omaha punkers Nowhere also are on the bill. 8 p.m., $12. 

And that’s all I got. If I missed your show, put it in the comments section. Have a great weekend!

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2023 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.